Ring purchase doesn't have to be intimidating

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— Engagement and wedding rings are a lot like clothing -- styles come and go and then come back again.

And as the design and style of the ring itself varies, so does the manner in which it is selected, said Richard Tyser, owner of Kester Jewelry in Craig.

Decades ago the ring was usually picked out by the man and given as a surprise, and the future of the relationship sometimes depended on whether the woman liked her companion's selection, Tyser said.

Nowadays, engagement ring selection is often a group process.

"It is almost commonplace where the girl will come in and scope things out, then the guy will come in separately, and then they'll come in together and select one," Tyser said.

Regardless of who picks out the ring, a variety of options exist for couples.

The two most important choices are the type of stone and the type of metal.

Diamonds are traditionally the stone of choice for an engagement ring, but other precious stones like sapphires and rubies also have become popular choices, particularly for those concerned with the turmoil of the international diamond trade.

Sarah Buckles Larner, a custom jeweler and owner of Silver Spur Studio in Steamboat Springs, recommends couples select precious stones for the ring because of their durability. Other, softer stones scratch more easily and eventually will need to be replaced, she said.

Four criteria will help a ring buyer select a diamond. These factors -- the cut, color, clarity and carat size -- all play a part in determining the cost of a diamond.

The color of a diamond ranges from pure white -- the most expensive -- to a hint of yellow, Tyser said.

Clarity is used to determine the amount of imperfections in a particular diamond. The fewer the imperfections the rarer and more expensive the stone.

Carat describes the weight of the diamond. One carat is equal to 0.2 grams. Most young couples select diamonds that are between one-quarter and one-half a carat, Tyser said.

In addition to stone selection, a man or couple needs to decide what type of metal is used for the ring.

In the past, yellow gold was the popular choice. Today, platinum and white metal are the most popular.

Platinum will cost three times as much as white metal, Larner said. White gold is a good alternative for cash-strapped couples, though the white gold will appear slightly yellow when compared to a platinum ring.

As with any ring selection, cost is almost always the final determining factor. Some jewelers recommend a man spend the equivalent of three months' salary on the engagement ring. Tyser and Larner recommend a man spend what is affordable to him.

"I think it's up to the individual," Buckles Larner said. "A lot of young people don't have a lot of money. I'm not into pushing people into spending a lot of money."

"Go with what you can afford to pay now," Tyser said. "Don't overspend yourself. You're going to need money to get married, too. There's always anniversaries coming up when you can trade up."

In fact, upgrading later in the marriage has become increasingly popular for couples.

"Women always love to change their settings five to 10 years down the road," Buckles Larner said. Stones can also be upgraded as a couple's financial situation becomes more stable.

Engagement rings and wedding bands can be purchased together, or the wedding ring can be picked out later and made to fit the style and shape of the engagement ring.

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